For a high school on the outskirts of Boston, keeping up with the Joneses is no longer encouraged. The academic eat-or-be-eaten mentality is now being battled to preserve the mental health of students, in keeping with a bourgeoning national trend.

Paul Richards, principal of Needham High School (NHS) in Needham, Mass., has made it his school’s mission to reduce stress levels among students, as detailed by The New York Times (“Less Homework, More Yoga, From a Principal Who Hates Stress,” Oct. 29, 2007). NHS has created a Stress Reduction Committee that’s taking steps to help students relax, including a mandatory yoga class for seniors.

Richards also “asked teachers to schedule homework-free weekends and holidays,” wrote Times reporter Sara Rimer.

Reducing stress among students is a great idea to preserve the mental health of kids nationwide. Mandating relaxation is not the best way to achieve it, however. Weaving relaxation tips into students’ everyday schedules and encouraging a calmer state of mind strikes a perfect balance, relieving stress without encouraging laziness or discouraging extra effort.

There are some students who can – and want to – handle the workload of five Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes and extracurricular activities, and should be able to do so if they wish. It is important, though, that students realize it is not necessary to jam-pack their schedule to ensure success in the future.

This is especially true in the context of college admissions. Mr. Smokler, an English teacher at NHS, told his students, for example: “When you graduate from college, no one is going to care where you went … If they do care, you don’t want to work for that boss.” Public colleges and universities, many of which don’t demand as many A.P. credits from prospective students, can provide the same education without the stress and hassle.

More importantly, school is supposed to prepare students for the future, not consume them with tests and the tedious upkeep of GPAs. Students must have time to live the only childhood they’ll have. Encouraging teachers and counselors to tell their students they don’t have to become hermits with books and study guides to succeed academically will improve mental health among students of all ages.

Current relaxation plans at NHS, minus the mandating of yoga classes, will prove to benefit the students and nurture their minds. Alleviating stress for high school students is a movement that needs to be nationally recognized now, before intense stress – and its impact on mental health – becomes the norm.